Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, will today in Owerri, the Imo State capital, attempt to convince the people of the South–East to vote massively for him and the party in next month’s presidential election.
Historically, at least since 1999, the zone had proved to be a fortress of the party. In 2011 for instance when Goodluck Jonathan as presidential candidate of the party defeated President Muhammadu Buhari who was then candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) by over 10 million votes difference, South-East alone contributed over five million votes to that victory.
However, by 2015, when Jonathan lost to Buhari, the difference in votes was 2.5 million. Jonathan polled 2, 464, 906 votes in South–East, Buhari polled 198, 248 votes. But till date, stakeholders from the zone appears not to have bothered to do any introspection to ascertain the loss of about three million votes in the region within a span of four years.
Pundits are, however, of the view that, even if no one is bothered about the development, Mr. Peter Obi, former Anambra State governor, who was the zonal coordinator for PDP in that election, and who is today the running mate to Atiku in next month’s election should at least worry.
Regardless, the choice of Owerri as venue for today’s rally appears to many as a clear indication that all may not be well within the PDP family in the zone. But Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, insisted that there was no division among the stakeholders in the zone.
He was reacting to insinuations that he had dissociated himself from campaigning for Atiku on the ground that it would be needless dissipating energy on a project for which he was not considered for any major role.
He said: “My attention has been drawn to the orchestrated attempts by some characters to create the impression of a divided house in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the coming presidential election. Such characters dish out fake and divisive stories without source on a daily basis and attribute same to me.
“While I refuse to be distracted by such cheap blackmail, smear campaign and extreme propaganda, it is important to reassure our supporters that the PDP is united and focused on wresting power from the All Progressives Congress (APC).
“After the PDP lost the presidency and majority status at the National Assembly in 2015, I made it clear that I would stand by the party, no matter what. It took other party stakeholders and I a lot of efforts, sacrifices, soul-searching and painstaking negotiations to hold the party together and rebuild it. If I did not abandon PDP at its darkest hour, it does not make the slightest sense to abandon it now that its sun is rising again. I have held separate meetings with our vice presidential candidate, Peter Obi and the Chairman, South-East governors forum, Dave Umahi, to work out strategies for our party’s success in the coming elections….”
But if Ekweremadu’s position is to be believed, what explanation will anyone give for the sudden change of venue of the rally from Enugu, where it has a PDP governor to Imo, where the opposition APC calls the shot?
The party had earlier scheduled its rally for Enugu, but later put it off and shifted it to a later date without any reason. And when it decided it was going to hold today, it changed the venue from Enugu, the zone’s traditional headquarters, to Owerri. Of the five states in the zone, PDP is in effectively control of three, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi. Why would it prefer to hold its rally in Owerri?
Chairman of the Atiku-Obi campaign organisation in Anambra State, who incidentally was the party’s standard bearer in the last governorship election, Mr. Oseloka Obaze, attempted to provide an answer. He said holding the rally in Imo State was deliberate. He said it was PDP’s own way of taking the battle to the stronghold of the APC, with a view to winning it for its candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Obaze, a protégée of Obi, spoke to journalists in Awka, the Anambra State capital:
“The choice of Imo State was to show the party’s seriousness in winning the state during the election, and we have our governorship candidate there, Emeka Ihedioha who is equally good.”
He also handed down what looked like a warning to PDP South–East governors: “If they don’t work hard and our party loses, there will be a backlash from Ndigbo after the election, even if Buhari returns, there is no assurance they will win their own elections. It will be inimical if they work against their party – PDP and the Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi ticket after campaigning for their own offices.”
Interestingly, Obaze was the same man who had raised the false alarm after Obi’s emergence as running mate that PDP South-East governors and other leaders in the zone, including Ekweremadu, were meeting to reject Obi’s candidature. His position, helped in no small measure to widen the gulf between Obi and the PDP leaders in the zone at the time, as they believe that his position may have been endorsed by Obi.
South-East and 2023
Although the year 2023 is still four years away, the issue of who would be president then has already become a major issue. The rally is expected to help to provide a compass in that direction. There appears to be a fight between the South- East and South-West over which zone would produce the president in 2023.
The South-East leaders in APC have been telling their people that a support for Buhari would ensure they get a shot at the presidency in 2023. This is the reason such Igbo leaders have been doing everything possible to make APC get a strong root in the South-East. And they appear to be getting many converts until South-West APC leaders introduced another twist to the debate.
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had told the Yoruba in the South-West that they would produce the next president in 2023 if they support Buhari in next month’s election. Vice President Osinbajo also lent his voice to this assertion when he declared that the South-West would produce the president in 2023 if the zone ensures Buhari wins next month.
But the Fashola and Osinbajo declarations is at variance with what Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, told the South-East. The SGF was unequivocal when he declared that the South-East would produce the president in 2023 if voters in the zone support Buhari.
Although, before Atiku’s emergence, it was reported that part of the conditions reached to secure South-East votes at the PDP presidential convention in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, was that he would spend just one term and hand over to a South-Easterner in 2023. Since his emergence however, nothing much has been heard concerning the said condition.
Atiku too is yet to make any public commitment to that effect. One of reasons for that, it was gathered, was largely due to the fact that all those who were party to the “Port-Harcourt Accord” were sidelined shortly after the convention.
With all that has transpired so far, pundits say, it is unlikely if those who put up a fight to ensure PDP survive after the 2015 devastating defeat, will be willing to do same, should the party repeat the mistake of the past.
After the 2015 defeat, the party was in disarray. But PDP’s National Assembly Caucus, led by Ekweremadu made smart moves to ensure its survival. The first was the one-day retreat by the Forum of PDP National Assembly (NASS) Members-Elect at the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt on June 1, 2015.
Leveraging on Ekweremadu’s international exposure as the Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament, PDP NASS members-elect brought parliamentary leaders, particularly from Ghana, with elaborate experience in relapses from ruling to opposition party and springing back to power, to share their experiences managing the change from ruling to opposition party.
And Ekweremadu, who spearheaded the initiative, espoused that much in his message to the gathering when he said “when the music changes, the dance steps also change, hence we thought we should come together to learn and properly rehearse the new dance steps of opposition before we enter the village square.
“From the United States of America to the United Kingdom, and Ghana, among so many others, the Members of Parliament have always been the springboard for their parties’ return to power each time they suffered defeat.”
A major outcome of that Port Harcourt retreat was the decision to go into the election of the leadership of the 8th National Assembly with one voice. This paid off as they exploited APC’s vicious contests to elect Senator Bukola Saraki as the Senate President, Ekweremadu as his Deputy, and Yakubu Dogara as Speaker of House of Representatives. Indeed, many attributed APC’s eventual fracture to this masterstroke.
Saraki and Ekweremadu’s emergence, and APC’s failure to manage its 2015 electoral successes is considered by many as APC’s major nemesis. In particular, the implications of Ekweremadu’s re-emergence were not lost on the ruling party. And it made several efforts to break him. But the lawmaker did not cave in.
In 2011, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) had also formed an alliance with some PDP “rebels” to elect Aminu Tambuwal as Speaker, defeating PDP’s anointed candidate, Adeola Akande.
The American College football player and coach, Paul Bryant, said: “When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it; admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.”
The PDP had admitted it made some mistakes in the way it approached the 2015 presidential election. It paid dearly for it. Has the party learn any lesson? Is the party likely to repeat the same mistake as it gets set for next month’s presidential election? It seems only time will tell.
One thing is, however, certain and that is, how PDP leaders, especially in the South-East and South-South manage their egos will go a long way to determine the party’s fortune in next month’s presidential contest. And unless the party puts its house in order, the fate that will befall it would certainly be worse than what it suffered in 2015.